How One Unique Crustacean Can Produce A Sound As Loud As A Sonic Boom

In the depths of the murky ocean, the world seems to echo out rhythmic soundwaves in ripples, mimicking the pattern of the water rushing all around. We often associate the flow of water with a sense of deep tranquility, going so far as to capture the audio of ocean waves and play them back like lullabies. Live Science reports that the human brain interprets such sounds as non-threatening, a kind of background ambiance that whisks us off to sleep in a soothing manner.

Alas, this is one of the ocean's many great deceptions. In truth, some of the harshest sounds on earth have come directly from the deep blue world beneath us (via Deepsea Oddities, on YouTube). One of the most baffling is a sound as loud as a sonic boom, coming from a most unlikely place. A small, unique crustacean can produce the ear-piercing, voluminous noise with just the flick of its wrist.

The tiny snapping shrimp can produce a sound as loud as a sonic boom

Measuring less than four inches long, this crafty crustacean looks like it couldn't hurt a fly (via Science). Anyone familiar with the ocean knows that in the deep blue, looks can be deceiving, and the snapping shrimp is certainly no exception. Video footage of the neon-legged crustacean in its striking stripes of blush pink and white show it has a special skill that can only be described as literally stunning.

With the flick of its wrist, or rather its claw, the snapping shrimp can fire off a soundwave that's as deafening as a gunshot, and with equivalent results. Blaring out at a resounding 218 decibels of volume, that shockwave is enough to freeze its passing prey (per Today I Found Out), giving the noisy bottom feeder a temporary spot at the top of the food chain as it hauls its frozen prey into the darkness. To give some perspective, the noise produced is among the loudest sounds in the ocean, rivaling the ear-shattering click of the sperm whale, a sea creature more than 156 times its size (via Britannica).

This pistol shrimp shoots to kill

The snapping shrimp, alternatively referred to as the pistol shrimp, is quicker than a bullet and sounding out is its way of capturing prey. According to Science, the sound this shrimp produces is not a kind of protective deterrent or even a warning shot, but a full on hunt for tackling other sea creatures. A-Z Animals reports that the fiery shrimp is even privy to letting off multiple shots of soundwaves with the click of its claw, in case the initial boom didn't quite get the job done.

After this, the snapping shrimp drags its stunned and frozen (at times already dead from the sound) prey back into its dungeon, which exists inside of excavated burrows beneath the rippling ocean's waves (via Science Direct). There in the obscure cracks and crevices, the sonic powered shrimp gets to work dismembering its unfortunate catch before finally devouring it piece by piece.

Shooting underwater bubbles that are both loud and hot

Move over Super Mario, for even your underwater fireballs are no match for the literally stunning snapper shrimp's arsenal of supersonic weaponry. According to Today I Found Out, the soundwave that shoots out of the pistol shrimp's claw is on par with the surface of the sun in terms of just how boiling hot it is.

At this point, you might be wondering exactly how the pint-sized shrimp packs a sound so loud it takes on the form of a boiling bubble. Is the shrimp snapping or shooting, clawing or clutching? In a way, the answer is none of the above. Science reports that they are merely closing their asymmetrical claws, but they are doing it at a speed so fast that it generates a shockwave that is both hot and alarming. And while the sound echoes out with the volume of a handgun, the claw producing it is built with a slip joint resembling what one might find in a pocket knife. 

These shrimp are single-handedly making the ocean's volume increase

The roaring sound of rushing waves lapping against the shoreline might soon be drowned out by a chorus of supersonic booms thanks in large part to this shrimp's unique reaction to climate change. USA Today reports that as oceanic temperatures rapidly rise from climate change, the snapping shrimp stands to potentially snap even louder.

Marine biologist Aran Mooney explained that this is because the shrimp is cold-blooded, and cold-blooded sea creatures move their muscles more when the water around them grows hot. According to his observations, the increased temperature doesn't just increase activity, it also causes the shrimp to produce an even louder sound and to do so more frequently as a response.

On the surface, a potentially louder ocean might not sound like a big deal, but it could interfere with human sonar and effectively drown out the calls of minke whales who need their undersea acoustics to attract mates and socialize (via Science).

This ear-shattering sound might hold the key to understanding how nocturnal sea creatures see

According to Science, the ocean fades to utter darkness once you reach more than 3,280 feet of depth. This fact has long fed into the mystery of how extremely deep-sea dwelling creatures see. Up until now, evolutionary biologists believed they relied mostly on fading traces of bioluminescence permeating from glow-in-the-dark octopus, fish, and sharks whizzing past. It was concluded that this, combined with genetically advanced vision, made it possible for them to navigate the murky depths of water where darkness closes in on every side.

But now, further scrutiny of the sonic sound power of snapping shrimp has led Bioacoustician Dr. John Potter to hypothesize that deep-sea swimmers might be using sound to see. According to his insight, sounds like those created by the pistol shrimp could potentially reflect off of surrounding objects and create a kind of vision which he refers to as "acoustical illumination" (via Ocean Conservation Research).

Claws that shoot. Bubbles that boil. Sounds that see ... Who knew the ocean could be so deep?